I recall that it was only in the aftermath of the 1998 ice storm that we learned just how close Montreal had come to a total power outage that may have required the evacuation of the island. I imagine there must have been some very tense moments for the powers that be at Hydro Québec. Fortunately we avoided such a drastic situation. I wonder if something similar may be happening now in downtown Montreal.
The city is undertaking a plethora of infrastructure repairs and alterations. There is a rush to have many of these things done and dusted in time for next year’s 375 anniversary of Montreal. We can’t roll out the welcome mat for visitors, asking them to bring their cash to town for the party only to have them sitting in traffic gridlock, can we?
When it comes to keeping the public informed of road problems and detours radio traffic reporters routinely omit the downtown core from their bulletins, focusing instead on highways and bridges. Last week there was an accident at five o’clock in the afternoon that shut down a major intersection. No one was going anywhere for the moment as emergency vehicles and a taxi blocked the way. Good citizen that I am, I snapped a photo and tweeted it to several radio stations suggesting folks avoid the area if possible. Were there any re-tweets? Nope, not one. Were there original tweets informing the public of the problem? No. I think their attitude is that if you drive downtown you should expect this sort of thing. You’re on your own.
For the most part I can carry out my daily business downtown without a car. Walking gives me exercise as well as the ability to observe the traffic snarls without being stuck in them. With segments of many streets closed completely while work is carried out, and countless others reduced to half the number of lanes or made one way, it occurs to me that the downtown core may still be functioning, but is on a precipice. A tipping point over which lies a nonfunctional urban centre.
What might the last straw be? What would push the inner city over that precipice? This past Sunday there was a huge gas leak that, in the interest of public safety, had police and firefighters shut down a large chunk of downtown. Some 22 intersections were affected. Thankfully it was at eight o’clock on a rainy Sunday morning so the inconvenience was limited. Had the leak occurred twenty-four hours later, during Monday’s rush hour, there is no telling what havoc may have been experienced. Now imagine an early but significant snowfall. Picture if you will the current downtown gridlock exacerbated not only by bad road conditions, but by hundreds of snow clearance vehicles. This would of course be followed by several days of snow removal operations.
I would like to think – hope – that there are those much wiser than I who have a plan all set for the eventuality of a snowstorm. Fingers crossed.